This week’s Did You Know was written by a prominent professor and long time member of Alcoholics Anonymous, it’s titled, Absolutist Thinking, Resentment, and Depression: Some of us can pretend to ourselves that we are living by the four absolutes; honesty, unselfishness, love, purity and go around play-acting that role so well that sometimes we can even gain the applause of many of the people in our audience. But others in our audience will know that it is all an act, and that we are simply hypocrites, that is, people all dressed up in stage costumes putting on a phony performance. Since deep in our hearts, we ourselves will always know this too, even if this knowledge is buried down below the conscious level, this hidden awareness of the lie we are living will always fill our lives with enormous strain and tension. And another part of our subconscious mind will be raging at being forced to comply with all the hateful, in-human, absolutist requirements which will produce, invariably, a generalized state of intense resentment which will dump on every luckless soul who comes along. The psychiatrist Fritz Perls often said (rephrasing one of Nietzsche’s major themes), “Show me a good boy, and I will show you someone filled with resentment.” Show me a good girl, and I will show you someone filled with resentment.” He meant the people who were continually playing the role of good boy or good girl, like a performer on stage, and trying as hard as they could to perform that act in all their encounters with people.
After the pretenses collapse, depression and a total sense of failure is the result. The modern cognitive therapists have discovered that trying to follow absolute should’s and ought’s is one of the most frequent causes of crippling depression. If they can teach their patients to quit setting up absolute rules for themselves, the depression will disappear. Clinical studies demonstrate that cognitive therapy will help a very high percentage of patients suffering from chronic depression, just as high a percentage as anti-depressant medication. This is not an either/or issue. Many psychotherapists and psychiatrists have found that the highest success rates in treating chronic depression come from using appropriate medication to calm the patient down if necessary, followed by extensive cognitive therapy to teach them how to stop thinking in terms of absolute should’s and ought’s, how to quit being so judgmental and critical of other people, and so on.
The important thing to note here however, is that if people in A.A. who are trying to follow the Four Absolutes are suffering from continuous depression which never gets any better, these people should look very seriously at the possibility that trying to follow the Four Absolutes is creating all or part of the depression. The same thing applies to people in A.A. who have been trying to live by the absolutes for some time and are still plagued by continual resentment and, directed at people and things which on the surface may appear to have nothing to do with absolute rules. As has already been noted, the strain of constantly trying to force ourselves to live by an absolutist system will eventually produce an inner rebellion in some part of our psyches which will suffuse our minds with a kind of free-floating rage which is going to spill over somewhere or other. The Apostle Paul’s conclusion that trying to save ourselves by works of the law never works, along with Jesus’ continual warnings that those who try to appear super-righteous will inevitably end up as resentful hypocrites, is not obsolete nonsense. These were pearls of true wisdom, the practical observations of two extremely perceptive spiritual teachers. Some of the best modern psychiatric observations—along with a lot of good A.A. practical common sense—completely supports what they said.
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